Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Most Popular Posts on the Curious Cat Management Comments Blog in 2016

The most popular posts on this blog:

Breakdown of popular posts by year: 2016 - 2, 2015 - 2, 2014 - 2, 2013 - 1, 2012 - 1, 2006 - 1, 2005 - 1.

I started this blog over 10 years ago. After I figured out that I thought blogging would work for me I created a self hosted blog (the Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog) and moved the content to that blog. But I kept up the post here since web pages should live forever. For several years (about 2005 to 2011), I posted occasionally to this blog, sometimes the posts were comments made on other blogs.

In 2011 I started to use this blog a bit more consistently to collect the management and leadership related comments I made on other blogs here (when they seemed to say something useful or interesting that were worth posting on this blog - often things I wanted to be able to find later).

Related: Most Popular Posts on the Curious Cat Management Comments Blog (2015 edition) - Most Popular Posts on the Curious Cat Management Comments Blog (2014 edition)

Monday, December 26, 2016

Don't Claim Your Customer's Suffering from Your Management System Results are a "Learning Opportunity"

From, Microsoft finally admits that its malware-style Get Windows 10 upgrade campaign went too far":

It’s all well and good for a corporation to promise that its learning from mistakes, but it’s awful hard to believe such promises when the mistakes in question violate basic principles of software design and customer service

They are exactly right. This is one of the huge problems with the "learning from mistakes" excuse. Some mistakes are a sign of an extremely bad management system.

If you force the consequences of mistakes on your customers making up excuses about how this failure is a learning experience for you is only ok if you actually spell out how you are changing to assure you don't fail your customers due to this same management system failure again.

You need to design your systems to minimize consequences to customers when something goes wrong.

Acting as though a problem is due to some specific issue only with the exact circumstances that created the consequences is exactly the message you expect from businesses that have no respect for customers. It is exactly he cover your butt mentality of organizations you definitely do not want to be a customer of.

We need to stop accepting transparent excuses that indicate no acceptance of responsibility for mistreating customers. This wasn't a mistake about updating software. This was a mistake of a management system that allowed colossally customer hostile action to be taken and then continued and accepted meaningless excuses as if they were relevant. Microsoft manages to fail even the extremely low expectations we have for them over and over again.

I was foolish enough to continue to use Skype after Microsoft bought them. I added money to my account so that I would have access to Skype on my trip to China. 3 minutes into my first phone call they disconnected me. They then put up the most customer hostile form I have ever seen. I literally have over 30 questions that were required to be answered (things like what month and year did you sign up). I can't remember them all but at least 15 were insane to expect any customer to know. Needless to say they provided no way to contact them outside the ludicrous form. You can't have such repeated massive failures of basis common courtesy for decades without a horrible management system being in place.

It is so frustrating that such customer hostility is allowed to continue. Microsoft has a massive, decades long problem with treating customers horribly and making excuses for decades. This is just one more example of that pattern. Supposedly they are less horrible today than 20 years ago. Maybe that is true but they give me no reason to want to test out if that is true with their well publicized continuing of their customer hostile patterns.

Sure Apple's very poor software quality over the last 5+ years makes me frustrated with them. But Microsoft is much much worse so I have no desire to make from Macbook to any Microsoft software. Google has issues but if they would target users that don't have (or want to rely on) great internet connections to use their computer I would consider them. Ubuntu is the leading solution Apple has pushed me into strongly considering. The biggest issue I have not is the hardware for Ubuntu just isn't nearly as good as MacBooks. Granted the latest MacBook hardware choices Apple made are somewhat lame, but still it is much better hardware than others offer. Sadly it is stuck with their bad software and combine that with the sky high prices (the old MacBooks were expensive but well worth it) I just don't think I will buy another. While less than great I think one of the Dell laptops is in the lead for my next laptop.

You can't allow your business to treat customers horribly if you don't have a monopoly (or monopolistic position). Sadly for those stuck with Microsoft, they have close to that monopolistic position and rely on that. They have an extremely long way to go just to stop treating customers horribly. And treating an inexcusable failure as something they are learning from is yet another indication they are not learning at all.

Related: Practicing Mistake-Promoting Instead of Mistake-Proofing at Apple - Making Life Difficult for Customers - Incredibly Bad Customer Service from Discover Card

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Will the Government Adopt Better Management Methods This Time?

Reaction to, New Administration: Real Improvement This Time?

Sadly I don’t believe the odds of appreciable success are good. I think the odds are much lower than they were for previous attempts. I wrote about President Obama’s appointment of a Chief Performance Officer in 2009

it is dangerous if they believe their propaganda and don’t learn from all the previous essentially identical efforts: a claim of “first” is trying to convince people those past efforts do not exist. This self-delusional pattern is very common in the practice of management and a significant reason why the practice of management has not improved more rapidly over time. To achieve success you need to determine why the problem still exists and exploring the very similar past efforts is critical to such study.

in which I pointed out similar ideas as you state here about past efforts that amounted to very little.

I think there were some reasons to hope Gingrich might help apply some better management methods if he were in a position that gave him authority to do so in the 1990s, today I am very skeptical that he would help.

Related: Better Management in Government (2012) - Public Sector Continuous Improvement Site - Transformation and Redesign at the White House Communications Agency - Doing More with Less in the Public Sector (1986) - The Public Sector and Deming (2005)

Saturday, September 03, 2016

How to Improve at Understanding Variation and Using Data to Improve

My comments based on a question on, How to Use Data and Avoid Being Mislead by Data:

Thanks for this post John. This is the part of Deming’s teaching that I often struggle with (understanding variation). I read Wheeler’s book Understanding Variation and it helped me with the concept, but I am challenged trying to apply it where I work. I often am not sure what to measure and if I do, I’m not sure how to measure it. Folks appreciate my burn down charts showing trends, but this is about the best I’ve been able to do. Do you have any recommendations on where I can look to help me get better at this?

Getting better at using data is a bit tricky, so struggling is fairly common.
Probably the easiest thing to do is to stop reacting to normal variation (caused by the system) as if it were special. This isn’t super easy but it is the easiest step. And it does make a big difference even if it doesn’t seem very exciting.

The idea of actually using data properly provides big benefit but it much trickier. Don Wheeler’s book is a great start. Making predictions and evaluating how those predictions turn out is also valuable. And in doing so often (though not always) it will also spur you to collect data. This process of predicting, figuring out what data to use to help do so (and to evaluate the results) and considering the result of the prediction and how well the predictions overall are working can help.

You learn what data is often useful, you experiment with real data and real processes and you learn what needs to improve. If you are at least somewhat close to using data well then just doing it and learning from your experience is very useful. If you are really far off the experience might not help any 🙁
The links in the post above I think provide some useful tips (and the links within the posts they link to…).

More: Measurement and Data Collection

If you don’t have an answer for how you will use the data, once you get it, then you probably shouldn’t waste resources collecting it (and I find there is frequently no plan for using the results).

It isn’t uncommon that the measures you would like to have are just not realistically available or are hard to determine. How to get started in this is one of the tricker pieces in my experience. It is a place where consultants may be very helpful. If that isn’t an option another possibility is just to ask others at your workplace for ideas for metrics (there are issues with this and a big one is that many metrics will more likely to lead you astray than actually help).

This can also be an area where seeing what others are using can be helpful. Because it is hard to think up what are great metric seeing what others are doing may provide insight. Of course, the ideas must be evaluate for whether they would work for you (even if they are right for others they may not be right for you – and many are not really right for others it is just a thing they measure and while they have associated it with good things maybe they are wrong (correlation but not causation]).

Saturday, August 27, 2016

How to Help Instigate Change in an Organization

My comments on The W. Edwards Deming Institute blog in response to:

I’d like to see some posts about how to implement change in an organization. How does one get an organization to start looking at itself as a system? How does one get the organization to realize that the most important figures are unknown and unknowable? How does one convince an organization the importance of driving out fear? In short, how does one get an organization to listen to what Deming had to say?

Thanks for your comments. We will certainly address those topics in future posts.

We have explored some similar ideas in the past, here are some links that may be useful.

Dr. Deming "Statistical principles and techniques must be rooted and nourished with patience, support, and recognition from top management."

I don't think there are simple answers to your questions that take the form of do this simple thing and what concerns you is taken care of right away. You need to work with what you can and gain credibility so people are more and more willing to listen to you. Transforming the Organization – Deming Podcast with David Langford has some good ideas.

I have written about the questions you bring up on my Curious Cat Management blog: Habits and What to Do To Create a Continual Improvement Culture.

My basic philosophy is that the way to do what you are asking is to help people improve and while doing so explain how it relates to the points you mention (fear caused the problem we had to fix...). Few believe you at first. After you help numerous times more people start to believe maybe the overall philosophy actually is worth listening to since you seem to be able to make things better and you keep tying it back to view the organization as a system, understanding variation (and what data can and cannot tell you...), etc..

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Psychology of Change is Often the Trickiest Part of Process Improvement

Comments on, The Time I Volunteered at a Distillery and Couldn’t Help Doing Kaizen

It’s “Kaizen” because it made my work easier. It improved quality and consistency. I did it because I WANTED to. This is really repetitive work and not particularly skilled work. But I discovered there was a “knack” to it. Doing repetitive work allowed me to exercise my brain to do problem solving and come up with a better way.

So Then What?

I’m an individual worker, but there are others doing the same work.

An interesting thing happened... I tried sharing my discovery with other volunteers.

“Hey, can I show you something I learned about doing this?”

The general response was, “Nah, I’m doing fine… thanks, though.”

I have had a similar experience when volunteering. In my case it was primarily compiling a packet of information - very repetitive. It didn't take me long to figure out ways to improve the process. Getting people to accept changes to the process is tricky when people are unfamiliar with each other (I have found). I was tried to get my group to change but they didn't want to, but another group did so I showed them (they had overheard bits of it). At the end I think 4 of 6 groups switched (one of those that didn't was my original group).

Even once it was obvious the new way was much quicker (over twice as quick) the group that decided "no" to switching stuck with their original decision. My guess is this relates to psychology and I bet experiments would show a group that decided "no" would be among the most stubborn at sticking with the old method because they would have to accept they were reversing their original decision.

I knew it could be tricky to get people to change and I tried to present the case for change in a way that had a good chance to success originally. Even so it failed. The psychology of such efforts is usually much trickier than the process improvement. This point is actually one of the reasons creating a continual improvement culture that has respect for people at the core. When you create such a culture the psychology of change piece becomes much much easier which and as you continually improve processes the most obvious process improvements are made. If you don't create the right culture continuing the continual improvement process gets more and more difficult but if you do create the right culture it gets easier.

Related: Businesses Need to Capture Potential Information and Use the Creativity of Employees - The Importance of a Work Culture That Values and Supports Critical Thinking - Change Management: Create a Culture Seeking Continual Improvement or Use Band-Aids? - Communicating Change

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Addressing Systemic Policing Issues

Response to: Police Shootings and Tampering

I have long been concerned about problems with our system of law enforcement in the USA. In recent years one good thing is that the problem is getting much more attention (the increasing militarization of police department however is a very bad trend that has gotten much worse over the last 10 years).

I strongly believe the former police chief of Madison, Wisconsin has very good ideas on what should be done. His blog has many useful ideas and he discusses Deming's ideas often. He also wrote a guest post for the W. Edwards Deming Institute blog: Quality Beginnings: Deming and Madison, Wisconsin.

Some of my previous posts on the topic include: Transforming a Management System – A Case Study From the Madison Wisconsin Police Department (2015), SWAT Raids – Systemic Failures? (2007), SWAT Culture (2013), Police Failing to Enforce Law If Lawbreaker is a Police Officer (2009), The Public Sector and Deming (2006).

Monday, March 14, 2016

William G. Hunter Award (nomination deadline June 30th)

William G. Hunter Award
Nomination Deadline: June 30

Criteria for Selection - The William G. Hunter Award is presented annually in order to encourage the creative development and application of statistical techniques to problem-solving in the quality field. Named in honor of the Statistics Division’s founding chairman, the award recognizes that person (or persons) whose actions most closely mirror Bill Hunter’s strengths, which were as:

  • A Communicator
  • A Consultant
  • An Educator (especially for practitioners)
  • An Innovator
  • An Integrator (of statistics with other disciplines) and
  • An Implementor (who obtained results)

Download Award Criteria and Nomination Form (DOC)

Past awardees include: Gerald Hahn, Brian Joiner, Soren Bisgaard, Christine Anderson-Cook and Bill Hill.

Friday, February 05, 2016

The Absence of Defects Does Not Necessarily Build Business

Comment on: Saving Money vs Making Money

by saving money, we make more money – simple (and easy); anyone should be able to see that! And while this may be true for the short term, it doesn’t support any longer term growth.
So, what do you want to do? Do you want to save money or make money?

Let me know your thoughts!

How about Deming's thoughts :-)

"No defects, no jobs. Absence of defects does not necessarily build business… Something more is required." W. Edwards Deming

Waste can be equated to defects and the sentiment is the same. I share more of my thoughts on the topic in a 2006 post: Quality and Innovation.

Related: Zero Defects Isn't the Right Goal - Customer Focus by Everyone

Friday, January 29, 2016

Ikea Business Model; and Growth and Society

comments on: Peak Stuff and the Hierarchy of Useless Things

"stock analysts" don't exist for Ikea. They have no stock holders. They are completely owned by a "charity."

But all you have to do is look at all the extremely highly paid executives in USA charities to see that charities often take on the form of corporations being run 1st to make executives happy and 2nd for other reasons (charitable in the instance of charities, education in the instance of large universities, profits of shareholders and all the other stakeholders in the instance of companies).

Another similar model you can view is tax evasion trusts set up by the rich which subvert the social contract. They have bought laws and regulation that allow them to set up trusts to benefit them, and/or their kids, and/or their grandkids and have those trusts treated beneficially for the rich, at the expense of society. Some argue Ikea has the same model, pretend it is a charity and use the funds primarily to benefit those creating the charity ("What emerges is an outfit that ingeniously exploits the quirks of different jurisdictions to create a charity, dedicated to a somewhat banal cause, that is not only the world's richest foundation, but is at the moment also one of its least generous"). In Ikea's case some amount does go for the "charitable purpose of Ikea": interior design.

The growth mindset certainly permeates Ikea, as it does public USA companies and "wall street."

> "not as much in the quality of customer experience"

This is so true. As a consumer, I find the customer experience painful much more often that it is good. Basically, the best it gets in the USA (for 95% of the companies) is when you don't have to interface with them at all. Then things are good. And I do think companies have made strides in removing the need to call to get things fixed... But oh my, when you do need them to actually get a hold of them the extremely bad experience is pitiful and truly far beyond pitiful most of the time. They setup extremely insulting processes that completely disrespect your time and humanity.

The horrible experiences when needing to deal with large USA companies is by far my biggest frustration of being back in the USA. As long as you don't have to contact them things are usually decent but I dread any time I need to contact one of them.

My father really liked Small is Beautiful by EF Schumacher which I think takes issue with the growth focus that permeates society (it has been decades since I read it) and instead wishes to focus on better lives not lives with more things.

Related: Kleptocrat CEOs and Their Apologists - Pretending to Listen to Customers Rather Than Actually Doing So - Why Pay Taxes or be Honest - Corrupt Looters at AIG

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

How to Respond to a Request for Estimates on Software Development

Response to: Do We Really Need Estimates?

I think it is a question of addressing the purpose those see for estimates. If they just say "lots of people do it, so we should" then your answer is fine in my opinion.

If they say they need some way of deciding if doing that work is wise or something that is going to be so difficult that it isn't worth it then a different answer is needed. If they talk about scheduling then other explanations make sense to me - talking about the issues with fixed estimates etc. but giving them alternatives of fixed schedule with variable features (if there is a business need to deliver on some date)., etc.

Related: Agile Story Point Estimation (2012) - Assigning Story Points to Bug Fixes (2011)

Monday, January 11, 2016

Don't Use Targets as a Management Tool

comments on: Deconstructing Deming XI B – Eliminate numerical goals for management

I agree with the comments that targets are unwise. There is one sense in which I think the idea of (but not actual) targets can be useful and that is in setting the scope.

If we want to find an improvement that is immense (versus small continual improvement) that can set the expectation of how we approach improvement, including an understanding that we are going to have to really make big changes in how things are done.

I have written more about this, here:

Deming on Targets

Basically I don't see that scoping "target" as really a target but it is similar so if you want to see it that way, then in that sense I can see a "target" as useful.

Related: Innovation at Toyota - Targets Distorting the System - Righter Incentivization